Starting from a yeast suppressor screening platform, we have identified the SKI complex as a potential broad-spectrum antiviral target. We found that the NS1 protein of influenza A virus (IAV) and the ORF4a protein of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which both function to bind double-strand RNA and inhibit cellular interferon responses, cause a slow growth phenotype when expressed in yeast. Knockout of the components of the yeast SKI complex caused a loss of this slow growth phenotype, suggesting a functional link between the viral proteins and the SKI complex. The SKI complex is a helicase that unwinds double-strand RNA and sends it to the RNA exosome for degradation. We next investigated whether the highly conserved human SKI complex was important for replication of IAV and MERS-CoV. RNAi based experiments showed that both viruses were inhibited when the SKI complex was removed, suggesting the complex has a proviral role in replication. Through in silico modelling using the published crystal structure of the SKI complex, we looked for potential binding pockets for chemical compounds. We screened a selection of these compounds for antiviral activity and have found four different chemicals capable of inhibiting IAV infection. Our most studied of these also inhibits not only MERS-CoV, but also Ebolavirus Makona. Our data suggests the SKI complex may be a target for broad-spectrum antiviral therapy and we have multiple chemical structures from which to work to develop therapeutic approaches.

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